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Discerning teleuse from mobile transaction generated information

What LIRNEasia tries to do with its teleuse@BOP research is to understand how and why people use ICTs at the bottom of the pyramid. We do this from the demand side. That has its advantages, but disadvantages too, such as cost, shortcomings in memory, etc. Therefore, we were thrilled to see someone else engaged in the same project, but from a different angle.

Nathan Eagle, a research fellow at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico, believes that mobile phones offer more than a way to communicate. In his hands, they can provide windows on the social structure of communities, information that can lead to better public-policy decisions, and unexpected sources of income for people in poor countries.

For years, Eagle has been mining cell-phone data captured by service providers around the world. Using algorithms he developed as a graduate student at MIT, he strips all identifying information from call logs and looks for patterns in where people go and how they use their phones–patterns that can reveal how social networks are affected by outside forces. For instance, he is working with city planners in Kenya and Rwanda to understand how slums grow and change in response to events such as natural disasters and declines in crop prices. And earlier this year, Eagle began using phone-derived data to build a more accurate model of the spread of malaria in Africa. Previous models had relied on spotty information about people’s movements, collected in sporadic surveys. With a better picture of how the disease spreads, governments can improve the policies designed to fight it.

Full report is here.

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